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Thursday,  June 4, 2020

Editor’s Note: Pastor Scott Peterson is sharing daily devotions written by some of his favorite authors. These current devotions are written by Arndt Halvorson on the writings of P.T. Forsyth. Their biographies and any notes by Pastor Scott are listed at the end of the devotion.

Surprised by Love

by Arndt Halvorson

“The true majesty of God is his mercy. His greatness is not in his loftiness, but in his nearness. He is great not because he is above feelings, but because he can feel as no human can. God’s majesty is saturated through and through with his forgiving love, which comes out most of all in his treatment of sin.”

–P.T. Forsyth

The prayer of the church for the seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost expresses Forsyth’s words: “O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity. Grant us the fullness of your grace, that, pursuing what you have promised, we may share your heavenly glory; through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (LBW p. 27).

Jewish theology insisted that only God could forgive sins. Jesus’ contemporaries were therefore horrified when he forgave the sins of the paralytic. It seemed to them that Jesus was usurping the place of God and offering “cheap grace. “Sin is sin, after all,” they said, and “God alone is the Holy Lord of all life.”

Sin is rebellion, whether it expresses itself in dramatic ways or quietly. It is therefore beyond our poor ability to atone for our sin. God, who knows this even better than we, moves to convince us that we have one great hope. He is not a “hanging judge.’ He does not give moral lectures. He takes our rebellion to himself by dying on the cross and coming to us with his offer of mercy, which is simply forgiveness of sin.

The experience of forgiveness is always a surprise. Though we’ve heard many times that God is always available, the experience of his nearness, his mercy, his empathy, and above all his power, sends shock waves to our heart. All seems new-everything is changed, simply because the God of power expresses his power by showing love and mercy.

“And when he saw their faith he said, Man, your sins are forgiven you.’” (Luke 5:20).

Peter Taylor Forsyth was a theologian, pastor, and educator whose fiery preaching and provocative writing stirred Great Britain from 1874 until his death in 1921. For a number of years after his death he was forgotten, but since 1940 he has been “rediscovered” and has been studied by many of today’s church leaders and theologians. Born and educated in Scotland, he combines Scottish toughness and gentleness, practicality and mysticism, with an openness to the world outside–mainly German, Scandinavian and French thought. Since he was a pastor for 25 years, he does not write to systematize his thought, but to apply it to our daily lives. Thus, his theology has a personal “bite” which gets us involved as participants, not spectators. His writings seem current, addressing the great questions of our time–such issues as authority, how to read the Bible, prayer, the cross and its significance and the call to holiness by a Holy God.

Arndt L. Halvorson (1915 – 2006) was my preaching professor at Luther Seminary where he taught homiletics (preaching) for 24 years.  When Arndt dressed-up he wore cowboy cut suits, with a string tie and cowboy boots.  He had a passion for the gospel and his bluntness in communication was engaging.  One day in my preaching lab Arndt said, “Some of the best sermons I ever heard were preached without notes.  And, all of the worst sermons I ever heard were preached without notes.”  –Pastor Scott